Bosnian Serbs Select President

Banja Luka has chosen a new representative - but how long can he last?

Bosnian Serbs Select President

Banja Luka has chosen a new representative - but how long can he last?

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

The Bosnian Serbs have found a new man to represent them in Bosnia's tripartite presidency - but the intrigue surrounding his appointment suggests his days may already be numbered.

Borislav Paravac, a member of the ruling Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, was elected on April 10 to represent the Bosnian Serbs in Bosnia's multi-ethnic presidency.

Paravac replaces Mirko Sarovic, who resigned on April 3 after coming under international pressure for having allowed a Republika Srpska, RS, company, Orao, to sell arms to Iraq.

Sarovic's departure from office also followed the discovery that the Bosnian Serb army had spied on international agencies, and that managers in the state power company linked to the SDS had committed serious frauds.

Paravac's appointment may deflect attention from these recent scandals.

But his hard-line nationalist credentials do not bode well for stability in multi-ethnic Bosnia - or indeed, within his own government.

Barely a day after Paravac was selected, his fellow SDS member and RS president, Dragan Cavic, created a stir by telling reporters he would step up co-operation with The Hague tribunal - a statement that could have a direct impact on Paravac.

Hardliners fear that the tribunal, which is currently in hot pursuit of Cavic's predecessor as RS president, Radovan Karadzic, may also have fixed its sights on Paravac.

His wartime role - as mayor of the ethnically-cleansed town of Doboj and confidante to the RS defence minister of the time, Milan Ninkovic - has been fuelling speculation that he might be indicted for war crimes.

If this were this to happen, Cavic's readiness to work with The Hague would land him on a collision course with nationalists within his own party, who remain vehemently opposed to the war crimes court.

It could also spell problems with the SDS' coalition partners in government, the Party of Democratic Progress, PDP.

The PDP - widely seen as the less nationalistic, more civic-minded party in the coalition - had earlier put forward its own candidate to replace Sarovic.

However, on the eve of the appointment, Petar Kunic, the PDP candidate for the presidency, withdrew from the race.

His party offered no explanation as to why it had put forward a candidate for the presidency before withdrawing him to give Paravac a clear run for the title.

However, analysts say Kunic's candidacy was backed by elements within the ruling coalition who felt he would be a safer bet than Paravac, whom many felt was at risk of being indicted by The Hague.

Comments made by Milorad Dodik, leader of the opposition Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, added to the view that some government members had opposed Paravac's candidacy right until the last minute.

Dodik told IWPR that his party had agreed to give PDP candidate Kunic their backing after talks held on the eve of the appointment with the PDP leader and current Bosnia-Herzegovina foreign minister Mladen Ivanic.

"Obviously, all hopes that Ivanic seriously intended to settle the issue of his relationship with the SDS were in vain," said Dodik after the PDP withdrew their candidate.

Dodik says the ruling coalition is heading for a crisis, and early elections are on the horizon. If so, his party could do well out of these - the SNSD had a surprisingly strong showing in the October 2002 elections.

Paravac has taken office at a difficult time, and his term may well be a short one. He will first have to contend with the army and the hardliners, who are incensed by the way the international community has punished them for their supposed crimes and misdemeanors.

Paravac will have to balance this nationalist anger with the pressure from western European countries to punch through with reforms.

Some of these reforms, recommended after the recent scandals, are particularly painful.

The Bosnian Serb constitution has been redrafted, placing the army under full civilian control and removing all references to statehood and sovereignty. Furthermore, the army and intelligence services will now be monitored closely by at state level.

Speaking after Paravac's appointment, RS president Cavic acknowledged that Bosnian Serb politics were going through a rocky phase.

Cavic told reporters that, should a crisis arise, he would not hesitate to use his powers to dismiss the parliament, but equally, he hoped this would not happen - at least not while he was in office.

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